Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Saving Banksy (2017)

One of the best films you'll ever see not only on the work of Banksy but street art as well focuses on an attempt to save one of the painting Banksy did while he was in San Francisco

Actually the film focuses on a great many things while using the Banksy story as the linking device. SAVING BANKSY isn't about saving Banksy's art but all street art. The question is should it be saved- it's not really meant to exist out side of the place it was put. Additionally why are various art dealers making millions of the various works of art that have been cut away from their location while the artists get nothing.  There are lots of interesting  questions here and all of them deserve lots of discussion.

This film works for several reasons that the film has assembled a killer group of artists (Ben Eine, Risk, Revok, Niels 'Shoe' Meulman, Blek Le Rat, Anthony Lister, Doze Green, Hera and Glen E Friedman) to talk about the problems.  These talking heads beautifully put all of the questions into context and make you realize that its not simply a matter of  paint over it or that the artists have no rights.

And on top of it all there is all of the art- stunning pieces not only by Banksy but all of the other artists in the film.

And I'm sorry if this review is brief, but the film is as good as it gets  so I have very little to say beyond - see it either when it plays in theaters starting Friday or when it hit VOD on February 1

One of the first great films of 2017

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Election Night (2017)

Ryan Scafuro short is an important documentary about the 2016 election  that put Donald Trump into office.  It is a film that captures lightning in a bottle.

Documenting the events in a London pub where several hundred people have gathered to watch the results come in. We watch as people's hopes and dreams are either fulfilled or dashed and even how the rising emotions lead to a fist fight.

I am in awe of this film.

Beautifully capturing the mood and the spirit of election night Ryan Scafuro has turned out a little masterpiece of reporting. Yes I know this film is going to be incredibly painful for many people to watch, opening a freshly covered wound on many people's psyche,but at the same time the film captures the moment where everything went crazy.

Scafuro says that he he wasn't trying to make one of the great films about that night or the election but I think he may very well have backed into it. Focusing on one pub thousands of miles away from ground zero he has gained the ability to not be caught up in the circus that was the election. By reducing it down to one place and one group of people he has cut away the bullshit of the rah rah crap and mindless fear that gripped America and made something more  universal. Here we see people who aren't on for the cameras who have sides but aren't in battle lines. Instead Scafuro has reduced America (by way of England) down to what it really is just a bunch of people hanging out in a bar hoping for the right thing to happen.

You may not realize what is here but trust me this is as vital and important document about where we are and how we got here as we are likely ever to see. This is going to be one of those films that ten years down the road when the present uncertainty is gone we'll use to look back on and see what it was like. Yes there will ne CNN and Fox News docs on the election but they will focus on the circuses and the divisions, and while that was true that's not the world most people live in- most people live in a world that isn't as extreme as the pundits make it out to be- it is a world that is exactly like this bar in London where several hundred people gathered to watch the results come in.

This film is a must see. I know for many of my friends and readers the thought of revisiting that night this past November is daunting but trust me there is something about ELECTION NIGHT that softens the blow- not in that what happened rather in that it is a reminder that there are good people out there and and that even there are those who don't agree with you they probably aren't as crazy as the main stream media (or social media) makes them out to be.

ELECTION NIGHT can be viewed here.

On Further Review: LA LA LAND (2016)

The only good dance sequence in LA LA LAND
I truly believe that should LA LA LAND win the Pest Picture Oscar in five years it will be the subject of major reconsideration. Ten years on the film will have fallen completely out of favor. The film is the CHARIOTS OF FIRE, or CRASH of today.

Damien Chazelle's musical fantasia concerns Mia and Sebastian who meet cute- giving each other the finger in a traffic jam and the have an on again and off again relationship. Its a boy meets girl story told in a Hollywood setting that has become a critical darling.

Why the critics love it is completely beyond me. The songs are weak, the dance numbers are unremarkable (looking like something someone who's never seen a musical might come up with), the male lead can not sing, and the script is about as vapid and empty as I've seen in any musical (and trust me I've seen some vapid musicals).

The only thing I can think of is that everyone is fooled into thinking the film is about something because the boy and girl don't end up together. Its the infamous way of getting a critics attention- turn dark in the end because then the story will be about "something" and be taken seriously.

The script really is awful. There is no weight to anything. The characters are simply moved around to a certain point where they insert a musical number.  The dialog is  just plain awful. It is so desperate to be hip and clever but its just stupid. Its all glib exchanges. One of the key plot points is that Sebastian won't date anyone who hates Jazz. Ugh. How old is he?

Which leads me to the fact that there are no real character only caricatures. Sebastian and his striving for the Jazz ethic is laughably stupid. While I know we all attempt to live by our code (my spouse must like Star Wars or video games or some nonsense) behaving like that on screen with that being the only really character trait  just kills the character. I won't beat on the other characters because to dredge them up might mean that they can escape their bad canceled TV sitcom hell they escaped from for this one film.

Talking about bad TV sitcoms are we really supposed to buy the plot and what happens? None of it feels real. Events that happen at random and because Chazelle says it should. Griffith Observatory? Sure lets have our characters break in for the hell of it. Lets have the characters wander around aimlessly past really cool looking locations- why? Because they look cool.

The dance numbers are not all that good. They look like they are from some bad 1960's or 70's musical we don't really talk about- something like THE LITTLE PRINCE but set in Hollywood in 1967.

Look at most movie musicals and watch the construction of the sequences. The easiest thing to compare it to would be a Disney animated film like BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (and it is a musical damn it). Watch how the small song becomes a big number and watch how when it goes big there is a reason we are seeing what we are seeing. We don't see characters or items from out side the castle or the town square or the tavern. There is a reason the sequence plays out as it does. Numbers set in the real world have to have a reason why things happen-but not in this film. In the opening sequence of the film you end up with all sorts of people just showing up out of nowhere- like bicyclists and people just wandering along an elevated high way...why? Where did they come from? No idea.

Outside of the one sequence where Mia dances with her friends before going to the party (see above) none of the musical numbers make sense within the world of the story- locations seem wrong, random or bring in things that don't belong there. Yes I know its a musical but even with in it's own world it has to make sense- this doesn't.

(And I won't discuss Ryan Gosling's voice-because as my friends will tell you the only one worse than his is mine.)

And why the hell is it always twilight with the exact fucking sky colors? Its midnight and i's twilight at the Griffith Observatory. People are going to a party at night- suddenly it's twilight again.

I'm sorry if you love the film but in all honesty, I was desperately trying to stifle laughter when I was seeing the film to the point I was getting glares from the few people at the other side of the theater. I'm sitting there watching the film and I'm biting my lip flopping around in my recliner trying not to scream for Mike and the bots...

It isn't a bad film, it's just not a really good one- and as for being anything close to a best of the year pick. Had it not been winning awards as the best film I would have thought it was a perfectly okay musical. Since it's heralded as a Best Film of the Year contender I think the statement "You must be f-ing kidding" best sums up my feelings.

Seriously this is a bad TV sitcom movie musical. This is the sort of thing you might have gotten away on an episode of The Drew Carey Show for one of it's musical episodes but not 130 minutes, I think director Chazalle knows it because in interviews he kept talking about the fear of being discovered a fraud.

You're not the fraud Damien, all of the people going gooey over you film are.

I think the reason the film is so big in Hollywood is not because it's a lovely romance- rather it's because its a film that says if I give up love and real relationships I can get the empty career I always dreamed of.

The big empty heartless LA LA LAND is a ca ca film.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Peshmerga (2016) New York Jewish Film Festival 2017

If a studio ever wanted to distribute Bernard-Henri Lévy’s Peshmerga in America, they would just have to release the first two minutes as a trailer. In itself, it’s one of the most harrowing and striking sequences I’ve seen in a documentary in years. A single soldier of the Peshmerga—the military force controlling Iraqi Kurdistan who, along with Syrian Kurds, were the only troops facing ISIS in head-to-head combat—races up a hill to a fortification at the top. A man off-camera yells after him, telling him to be careful. Suddenly, the soldier vanishes in a puff of smoke as a mortar round makes a direct hit. It looks like a jump cut from one of Georges Méliès’ fantasies: he’s there one frame, a cloud of debris the next. But miraculously, the soldier comes crawling from the wreckage, his clothes partially blown off, his head caked in blood. He stands, walks a few yards, collapses on the ground. Before he loses consciousness, he yells in defiance “Long live Kurdistan!”

 If they played up the fact that the Peshmerga are in large part responsible for the gains made against ISIS—which they refer to as Daesh, a term despised by the terrorist Islamic militants—a studio could probably put a lot of butts in seats. Much of the footage is savagely thrilling. During his six months spent on the front lines of the fight, Lévy gives us many stunning sequences of combat, hope, loss, and tragedy. More than once his crew gets bogged down in actual firefights. In one incident, one of his cameramen was almost killed after the jeep he was traveling in hit a mine. The blast immediately killed three Peshmerga soldiers, threw the cameraman from the jeep, and nearly ripped his left arm off. And, of course, Lévy shows us the cameraman’s recovered footage of the incident. But then, much of the footage isn’t for the squeamish: in addition to including graphic footage of Daesh executing civilians, Lévy fills the screen with dead bodies, wounded soldiers, and men rushing to their certain doom, including one segment where they cut away from the footage of a gray-haired general seconds before he gets shot in the head.

And yet, for all the brilliance of its footage, for all the inconceivable bravery of the men and women who made the documentary, Peshmerga is both insufferable as a documentary and downright insulting as a tribute to the men and women risking their lives against Daesh. The problem is Lévy himself. Lévy, one of France’s most prominent and distinguished living intellectuals and philosophers, felt inclined to highlight every single moment of his film with grandiose, grandiloquent narration. His narration isn’t just poetic, it’s the syrupy prose of a narcissist in love with his voice, convinced that every blessed syllable that drips from his golden tongue is destined to delight and enlighten all mankind. It’s not enough to pan the camera over the faces of shell-shocked civilians rescued from bondage, he must philosophize about the loss of innocence during war. He can’t just boast about the indefatigable bravery of the Peshmerga, he has to chide Daesh militants as cowards who only know how to terrorize, not wage war. Well, if that’s the case, Mr. Lévy, how has Daesh managed to fight off several of the world’s most powerful militaries for years? If these Peshmerga are the invincible warriors you proclaim them, how do Daesh keep deflecting their advances and regrouping?

Nowhere was the short-sightedness of Lévy’s poetic waxings more infuriating than a scene where Peshmerga forces fly a drone over Mosul, Daesh’s de facto capital, to gather intel. Lévy solemnly intones that Mosul is a “City of Evil” that must be destroyed. Mr. Lévy, you realize that there are hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians being terrorized there, or should they all be thrown out with the rest of the chaff when the city is eventually retaken?

And what about the fact that the film seems obsessed with portraying the Peshmerga as righteous heroes—enemy of extremists, friend to both local Christian, Jew, and Yazidi? Lévy fails to mention that the Peshmerga have been decried by Amnesty International for the mass destruction of Arab villages in Iraq. But then, that doesn’t fit Lévy’s narrative, so why should he include it? He’s much too busy rhapsodizing over Helly Luv, the “Kudish Madonna” who makes “morale-boosting” music videos for the Peshmerga. When she first appears, all decked out with red hair and pierced nose, you’d think Lévy was describing an encounter with the Virgin Mary. Never you mind the countless female Peshmerga who risk their lives every day—they get only a few minutes of screen-time and some phoned in statements about how they’re “fighting for equality.”

I wish somebody like Werner Herzog could get a hold of Lévy’s footage so he could re-edit and re-narrate it. It’s abominable that such crucial documentation was wasted on a film that devolves into a road-trip scrapbook serving Lévy’s own sense of self-importance. The entire time I watched it, I couldn’t stop thinking of a line from Roger Ebert’s Great Movies essay on Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969):

Then they have dinner with the weathered rancher and his Mexican-American brood, and Fonda delivers the first of many quasi-profound lines he will dole out during the movie: "It's not every man who can live off the land, you know. You can be proud." (The rancher, who might understandably have replied, "Who the hell asked you?" nods gratefully.)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Nightcap 1/15/17 Slamdance and Sundance start this week, The New York Science Fiction Film Festival starts Friday, I saw The Birth of a Nation and La La Land, plus Randi's links

How audiences will not be seeing MANIFESTO at Sundance

Once again it’s time to look west to Park City and Sundance and it’s small upstart sibling Slamdance. Once again the film world will be looking for the first great things of the film year.

Unlike years past where we’ve ended up backing into the festivals and giving you coverage once the fest started and things fell into our laps this year we’ve known for several weeks we would be covering it. This is thanks primarily to Joe Bendel asking if we wanted some of his coverage. I of course said yes, so we are going to actually have a man on the ground this year. Additionally since Joe’s coverage was arranged I managed to see a couple of films from Sundance and few more from Slamdance. I think I’ve seen more shorts than features but no matter what I’ve seen has been choice. (THE GOOD POST MAN at Sundance is recommended. The feature KURO and the short HELL FOLLOWS are musts at Slamdance).

Our coverage will start on Friday for both fests and run until they end. While I know some of what is being covered, I’m not sure what it will all be. Check back frequently starting Friday since there is going to be lots of good stuff going your way.

For information on Sundance go here
For information on Slamdance go here.

We previous reviewed SUPERGIRL which plays Sundance when it premiered at DOC NYC
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Here in New York this week brings THE NEW YORK SCIENCE FICTION FILM FESTIVAL. It's being put together by the same people who do the Philip K Dick Film Festival. It looks wonderful- I'm not sure how much I'll get to- it overlaps several other NYC events- but I'm going to give it a shot- and based on a reading of the program you should too.

For details and tickets go here.
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The New York International Children's Film Festival announced the first 3 films this week YOUR NAME, MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI and REVOLTING RHYMES. The schedule hits this week as to tickets for members. Expect more details Tuesday or Wednesday as soon as info is released.
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Continuing on with a Sundance theme- This week I finally saw THE BIRTH OF A NATION Nate Parker's telling of the Nat Turner Rebellion.

I am not going to review it. I'm not going get into any sort of discussion about it  other than to say I'm at a loss as to why a year ago at this time anyone seriously thought the film would have a serious chance at a Best Picture Oscar. That anyone would be so foolish to pick a film and claim it's the best film of the year when 11 months have yet to pass is insane- no one knows what a year will bring. Had it been held up as the first film to have a chance at the Oscar I wouldn't have blinked but the pundits had it all but winning.

Do I think that Parker's past derailed it? Honestly no. I think the film simply doesn't remotely live up to the hype. Claiming the Oscar race was all but done before February was an act of pure hubris. Personally I don't think the film is as good as almost any film currently in contention for the Best Picture Oscar.

I do think that Parker was done a serious disservice by his PR people who whipped up the frenzy surrounding the film and thus caused the film to spectacularly crash and burn in the minds of many. I think the film deserved a more reasonable presentation to the media and public.
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I saw LA LA LAND Thursday- I will be running one of the former frequent On Further Review piece on Tuesday- but for now consider I am strongly of the opinion that if the film wins the Best Picture Oscar in five years everyone will be pondering why anyone thought that highly of the film
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Randi's links

Cult TV Page at TV Ark
Voices in Our Heads
The Erasure of Islam from Rumi
Jane Austen's teenage writing
Karma Killings

William Kentridge, Triumphs and Laments (2016) New York Jewish FIlm Festival 2017

Portrait of artist William Kentridge as he puts together a huge frieze 500 meters in length along the banks the Tiber river in Rome. The painting, done in black paint, will only last a few years before being obliterated by the winds and waters of time

Interesting portrait of the artist and his work gives us an intriguing way into his large scale project that is overwhelming when seen on film. I can only imagine what it looks like in person. This  film record of the project it really is something special.  What I really liked was that we got a sense of the artist in motion. How does he do what he does? How do you attempt to pull something off on this grand a scale?

As much as I like the film it presents a slight bit of disappointment in that I really didn't get as good a sense of the artist as a man as much as I would have liked. Yes I know some of Kentridge's work, especially his films but until I saw this film I never had any idea who he was as a  person. Now having seen this film I have a glimpse but there is enough here that I wish I had a bit more. Its a minor quibble, and ultimately not really the focus of the film- it's the work that's ceter here which is fine.

Definitely worth seeing hen the film plays on January 17 and 19. For tickets and more information go here.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Bette Midler: The Divine Miss M (2014) New York Jewish Film Festival 2017

BBC produced  biography of the Divine Miss M filmed in NYC as she is recording a new album. We watch as she is interviewed clips are played and Bette drags the film crew across the city and elsewhere to see all of the places that meant something to here career.

Solid bio is a largely positive look at Midler's career. We do not get any extended time in the darker periods for the film is a loving look at the woman, her music, her jokes and her influence on popular culture. It's a kind of big warm hug from a woman you want to give a big warm hug too.

The film is kind of hard to critique in any detail because the film is what it is. Never intended to be a be all and end all biography the film instead gives us the woman the the way we'd all like to see she her as a trooper singing songs. Its a lovely piece but because the film is from the BBC I was hoping for a tad more distance than we get- this is if nothing a promotional piece for the new album. That doesn't make this a bad film just one that is a tad too fluffy.

Nitpicks aside the real joy here is seeing the film clips from her time in Fiddler on the Roof to David Frost to video of her shows in the baths to her film and TV concerts. Its a wonderful mix of things fans probably have seen dozens of times and real gems that most of us never have, the Tony Award performance, the David Frost piece or even the black and white material from the baths. Its a lovely video document of a wonderful life.

Recommended for anyone looking to see a good bio and a must see alert for anyone who has ever loved Midler and her magic.

THE DIVINE MISS M plays at NYJFF on January 16

Friday, January 13, 2017

ROCK AND ROLL THE MOVIE (2016)


Darren Dowler's ROCK AND ROLL THE  MOVIE is largely one of the worst films I've ever seen. The story of a white nebish raised by a black woman who goes to LA to become an agent is unfunny, offensive and just plain bad.

Everyone is acting as if the whole film is an absolute goof which might have worked if the script were at least passable, instead it's just stupid bordering on brain dead- and offensive on so many different levels.

The only thing that is remotely decent in the film are some of the songs, but they are too few to make the film worth even attempting even for lovers of truly bad films. Destined to take the place of waterboarding in CIA installations ROCK AND ROLL THE MOVIE should be set fire to where ever it is discovered.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Cruel Beauty: A Romantic Weekend with Meiko Kaji February 10-12, 2017, at the Japan Society

New York, NY – Known for her fashionable modern style, long black tresses and piercing gaze, the inimitable Meiko Kaji rose to the top of the Japanese film industry in the late 1960s and '70s, working with some of the era's most talented filmmakers to create several now-classic genre film archetypes along the way—from hard-boiled girl gang bosses to kimono-clad, sword-wielding assassins.

Japan Society celebrates the iconic star, who turns 70 in March, with an action-packed prelude to Valentine's Day, full of female rebellion, ice-cold vengeance and tough love. Guest curated by writer and producer Marc WalkowCruel Beauty: A Romantic Weekend with Meiko Kaji screens five films Friday-Sunday, February 10-12, highlighting a selection of Kaji's most memorable roles.

In addition to the International Premiere of New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Boss's Head, the series includes early star-making appearances in Blind Woman's Curse and Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunteras well as selections featuring her iconic characters in Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance and Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable.

In his program notes from the series, Walkow writes: "Japanese movie stars don't get much more iconic than actress Meiko Kaji. Born as Masako Ota in Tokyo on March 24, 1947, Kaji's history is sadly one of being continually misunderstood by the studios which employed her. Originally groomed as a matinee idol at Nikkatsu in the '60s, she instead found fame there as the leader of a hard-boiled girl gang, riding motorcycles and brawling tooth-and-nail with both men and women. She moved over to Toei in the early '70s, again miscast as a replacement for recently-retired period film star Junko Fuji, who had embodied a different kind of beauty and strength throughout the '60s. Before long, however, Kaji once again found her place as an outlaw character, this time as a nearly-silent, icily violent female prisoner who unwillingly becomes the leader of a rebellion against the patriarchy. Having found fame, Kaji once again defied industry expectations and passed up further star turns in favor of working with talented filmmakers in supporting roles, preferring to take her work as an actor more seriously, as well as devote much of her time to her own private life. She remains an inimitable presence in Japanese cinema, and an icon who continues to inspire filmmakers and audiences around the world."

Though all films are later episodes in popular series, they stand on their own and can be enjoyed without familiarity with preceding episodes. These films contain a considerable amount of violence, nudity and graphic depictions of sex typical of the genre, and are recommended for audiences ages 18 and over.
              
Admission: $13/$10 seniors & students/$9 Japan Society members. Special offers: All Access Pass (1 ticket for each film in the series, 5 tickets total) $50/$35/$30; Double Feature Pass (2 different films in the same transaction) $22/$16/$14. Tickets may be purchased online atwww.japansociety.org, in person at Japan Society, or by calling the box office at 212-715-1258.

SCREENING SCHEDULE AND FILM DESCRIPTIONS
Film descriptions written by Marc Walkow. All films are in Japanese with English subtitles. These films are unrated but recommended for persons 18 years of age and older.

New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Boss's Head (Shin Jingi Naki Tatakai Kumicho no Kubi)
**International Premiere
Friday, February 10 at 7 PM
1975, 94 min., Blu-ray, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Kinji Fukasaku. With Bunta Sugawara, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Meiko Kaji.

Never before released outside Japan, Kinji Fukasaku's follow-up trilogy to his successful Battles Without Honor and Humanity series tells three unrelated stories about yakuza intrigue and betrayal, and this middle film co-stars Meiko Kaji as the dutiful wife of a heroin-addicted hitman (Tsutomu Yamazaki) who befriends, then betrays, series star Bunta Sugawara. An essential link within Fukasaku's cinematic world, The Boss's Head found him expanding his action vocabulary to include car stunts, as well as creating not one, but two meaty female roles (the other played byYuriko Hishimi). Composer Toshiaki Tsushima contributes another memorable score, and the ensemble casting is among the best of the entire series. A yet-to-be-discovered classic.

Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance (Shurayukihime Urami Renka)
Saturday, February 11 at 4:30 PM
1974, 89 min., DCP, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Toshiya Fujita. With Meiko Kaji, Juzo Itami, Yoshio Harada.

Meiko Kaji took a break from her work on the Scorpion series at Toei to make a pair of bloody period swordplay films at Toho Studios, based on a manga by Kazuo Koike, the creator of Lone Wolf and Cub. The Lady Snowblood films, both of them directed by former Nikkatsu collaborator Toshiya Fujita, cast Kaji as the swordswoman Yuki, born in prison, and raised to seek vengeance on the group who raped her mother and murdered her father. Love Song of Vengeance, the sequel, sets Yuki on a different path, helping a left-wing dissident (Juzo Itami) who seeks to reform the government and expose a conspiracy between military and industrial forces which threaten the future of the nation. [A well-documented influence on Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films, Walkow discusses the history of the Lady Snowblood films in-depth at Film Comment.]

Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter (Nora-neko Rokku Sekkusu Hanta)
Saturday, February 11 at 7 PM
1970, 85 min., Blu-ray, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Yasuharu Hasebe. With Meiko Kaji, Rikiya Yasuoka, Tatsuya Fuji.

Meiko Kaji headlined her first ongoing series with this group of five girl-gang biker films, made during Nikkatsu Studio's heyday of "New Action" films, which amped up the sex and violence while addressing contemporary social issues from a distinctly left-wing point of view. Sex Hunter is the third (and best) entry in the series, and stars Kaji as the leader of the Alleycats and girlfriend to the morose, possibly impotent Baron (Tatsuya Fuji), who leads a biker gang of his own in attacks on mixed-race kids around the US military base in Yokosuka. Co-starring burly, half-Italian actorRikiya Yasuoka (Tampopo) as tough outsider Azuma, his not-quite-consummated romance with Kaji burns up the screen as their increasingly violent brawls with Baron's gang, as well as the local yakuza, pile up the casualties on both sides.

Blind Woman's Curse (Kaidan Nobori Ryu)
Sunday, February 12 at 4:30 PM
1970, 85 min., Blu-ray, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Teruo Ishii. With Meiko Kaji, Hoki Tokuda, Makoto Sato.

Although she began her acting career at Nikkatsu under her real name, Masako Ota became Meiko Kaji on the advice of her mentor Masahiro Makino, and this phantasmagoric female swordplay saga—the best period film Kaji made at Nikkatsu—was her first starring role under her new, tougher name. The third and final entry in the Rising Dragon series of female gambler films that starred Hiroko Ogi, Blind Woman's Curse dispenses not only with the original character but also Ogi herself, instead casting Kaji as the benevolent, tattooed leader of a band of yakuza. Kaji and her gang become targets of supernatural vengeance after she blinds another swordswoman in a duel, and genre master Teruo Ishii adds his signature erotic-grotesque elements to the story, which may be the best female swordplay-cum-ghost cat horror film Japan ever produced!

"Meiko Kaji, the doyenne of 1970s exploitation pics, is at her glowering, slashing best in Teruo Ishii's 1970 actioner… The film displays Ishii's trademark brand of eroguro (eroticism and grotesquery), which made him one of the era's most distinctive filmmakers." – Mark Schilling, The Japan Times

Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable (Joshu Sasori Kemono Beya)
Sunday, February 12 at 7 PM
1973, 97 min., Blu-ray, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Shunya Ito. With Meiko Kaji, Mikio Narita, Reisen Lee.

Perhaps Meiko Kaji's most iconic role, Nami "Scorpion" Matsushima was created by Toru Shinohara for an adult manga, and has been the subject of many remakes, but Kaji will always remain the original and the best. The third film in the series, and last by original director Shunya ItoBeast Stable is the most horror-tinged entry, and arguably the most violent. Nami, having escaped from prison in episode #2, befriends a lonely sex worker and incurs the wrath of a yakuza gang led by a former nemesis, the sadistic and power-mad Katsu—a grand guignol creation clad in black feathers who has sworn vengeance on Scorpion.

~

Marc Walkow has worked in the film and video industry for 25 years, and brought a variety of Japanese genre films, such as Nobuhiko Obayashi'sHouse, to the attention of foreign audiences. He writes about Japanese film, works as a translator and programmer, and produces Blu-ray special editions for Arrow Video and The Criterion Collection.

The Japan Society Film Program offers a diverse selection of Japanese films, from classics to contemporary independent productions. Its aim is to entertain, educate and support activities in the Society's arts and culture programs. Japan Society has actively introduced Japanese cinema to New York’s international audiences since the 1970s, presenting works by the era’s then-new giants such as Shohei Imamura, Seijun Suzuki, and Hiroshi Teshigahara upon their first release, and groundbreaking retrospectives on now canonical figures such as Kenji Mizoguchi and Yasujiro Ozu. The Film Program has featured retrospectives of great directors, thematic series and many U.S. premieres, and toured some series to other U.S. venues. While Japan Society’s repertory film programming gained new momentum and institutional support in the 70s as a full-fledged program, the first screening at Japan Society was actually in 1922, a four-reel film of then Crown Prince Hirohito’s 1921 visit to Europe. For more, visit www.japansociety.org/film.

Founded in 1907, Japan Society is a multidisciplinary hub for global leaders, artists, scholars, educators, and English and Japanese-speaking audiences. At the Society, more than 100 events each year feature sophisticated, topically relevant presentations of Japanese art and culture and open, critical dialogue on issues of vital importance to the U.S., Japan and East Asia. An American nonprofit, nonpolitical organization, the Society cultivates a constructive, resonant and dynamic relationship between the people of the U.S. and Japan.

Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and M subway at Lexington Avenue). For more information, call 212-832-1155 or visit www.japansociety.org.

Special thanks to Arrow Video, a subsidiary label of Arrow Films. Japan Society's Film Programs are generously supported by the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Endowment Fund. Additional season support is provided by The Globus Family, James Read Levy, Masu Hiroshi Masuyama, Nachiketa Das, Laurel Gonsalves, Dr. Tatsuji Namba, Mr. and Mrs. Omar H. Al-Farisi, David S. Howe, and Geoff Matters.

Vince Giordano: There’s a Future in the Past

Fortunately, Vince Giordano’s music goes equally well with Italian and Mexican food—maybe because its hot.  In 2013, the closure of Sophia’s forced Giordano and his Nighthawks Orchestra to move their regular Monday and Tuesday night residency to Iguana’s. The 2012-2013 season was quite busy for them, including Newport, Lincoln Center, and Town Hall gigs, but musicians like to be busy. Giordano and the Nighthawks keep the flame of “Trad” Hot Jazz alive in Dave Davison & Amber Edwards’ Vince Giordano: There’s a Future in the Past, which opens tomorrow in New York.

Giordano is an ambassador and evangelist for jazz, much like Wynton Marsalis and the late Dr. Billy Taylor, but specifically for the old school hot style (think Kansas City and Chicago). He might not be as well known, but it is not for a lack of high profile work. As the go-to guy for 1920s and 1930s big band music, Giordano has graced the soundtracks and screens of projects like The Aviator, Café Society, Everybody Says I Love You, and Carol. Probably his biggest hit from a CD-selling perspective has been Boardwalk Empire. In fact, we will see him laying down a track for the HBO show with Buster Poindexter, who needs a bit of time to acclimate to the syncopated beat.

There are no voiceovers or visible interviewers present in Future, but they really aren’t needed. Giordano’s running commentary is sufficiently informative. Giordano is indeed a likable (and likably eccentric) showman, who fills the screen nicely. Davison and Edwards also give the Nighthawks time to play through a number of tunes in their entirety, trusting the musicians’ talents will hold the audience’s interest (as well it should). Of course, the sight of Giordano wailing on the uncommon bass saxophone is worth seeing. It is a big axe to lug, but Giordano also has a tube and a metal upright bass to schlep. Just the load-in process is an adventure for the Nighthawks, but that is the price of authenticity.

It is great to see Giordano get some time in the spotlight, because he is an institution. He keeps a lot of musicians regularly gigging—a feat in itself that deserves cheers. He has also single-handedly saved scores of vintage scores from oblivion as a mad collector-archivist (it takes one to know one). For many of the younger Trad Revival musicians, he is also a godfather figure, while for many New Yorkers, he is the cat who made Mondays fun again.

All those aspects of his career come through quite agreeably. This was a rather dramatic period for the Nighthawks, but the documentary record is a lot of fun to watch. Anyone who appreciates American music should make the scene when Vince Giordano: There’s a Future in the Past opens tomorrow (1/13) in New York, at the Cinema Village.

A Horror Double Feature: THE SNARE and PITCHFORK

THE  SNARE
Three friends go on holiday and end up trapped in an apartment by a seemingly supernatural force.

Well made but slightly distant horror film doesn't always have clear cut answers as it makes you wonder just what is going on. Is there a force or is the lack of food and water getting to our three protagonists. While I know some people have absolutely loved this film I kind of remained outside of it with a feeling less that I was being told a story than I was watching things be manipulated to provoke a reaction.

Worth a look but I'm not sure you'll remember it the next day.

The SNARE is currently in theaters and on VOD

PITCHFORK
Hunter, an openly gay young man returns home with some friends to come out to his parents. During a barn dance Hunter's parents are killed, his sister is kidnapped and his friends are hunted by Pitchfork a young man in a dog mask with a pitchfork for his arm.

Odd ball horror film suffers from all sorts of problems including a script that is tonally all over the place. Some of this comes off as so silly (barn dance anyone? Neon bright colors?) that the film kind of collapses in on itself. Yes the film throws various socially relevant ideas at us but it doesn't really do much with them. While you can't help give the film points for trying to do something with the slasher genre the fact that it's free of any sort of graphic violence kind of works against what most people consider the genre's reason for existing.

Me I'm just looking for a good movie anywhere I can find it- but sadly this isn't one of them and I can't recommend PITCHFORK to anyone but horror completists.

Pitchfork hits theaters and VOD Friday

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

COUNTER CLOCKWISE (2016)


Dark and occasionally darkly funny time travel film about a scientist named Ethan who invents a time machine. Shooting himself six months in the future he finds he's wanted for the murders of his wife and sister. He then has to go back and try to figure out what happened, why and to stop it.

A bleak black science fiction comedy COUNTER CLOCKWISE surprised me with its dark nature. Rarely do time travel films dwell in such dark and darkly uncomfortable places. Yea you'll be laughing at some of what happens but some of the bits are just a tad unsettling. The result is a film I admire more than like - but which is good enough that I am actually looking forward to revisiting it when it's not the wee hours of the night

Currently out on DVD and VOD from Artspoitation


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Go North (2017)

GO NORTH is a problem film for me. On the one hand, taken on it's own terms it's an okay little post apocalyptic film for older kids and nondiscriminating adults. On the other hand the film is awfully derivative and will remind anyone who has seen more than a handful of similar films of all of the films you've seen before.

The plot of the film has civilization largely wiped away. We don't really know what happened except we see fragments of newspapers suggesting that there was some sort of epidemic and collapse of order. In a small town somewhere in the American South Josh lives alone and dreams of a better tomorrow. There are no adults anywhere around. He attends school which is run by a bunch of older boys, jocks. One day he decides to head north to see what is there. TRaveling with a girl named Jessie he soon finds that he is being chased by Caleb and his boys.

Echoing LORD OF THE FLIES, not to mention any number of post apocalyptic films or stories GO NORTH works best if you see it as a kind of  cinematic equivalent to the Young Adult novels that that seem to flood the market these days. Witty kids are in danger as they travel across an over grown landscape followed by some bad guys. The film seems aimed at the same audiences as THE HUNGER GAMES or MAZE RUNNER films. It's not bad, but odds are you've seen this before- to the extent that I kind of knew what the last bit was going to be before the fade out.

That ain't a crime but it just makes it hard to love.

I know I would have liked it more had the film's world made some sort of sense. The world is in uneven disrepair- some places are over grown some places are not. How are there batteries for somethings and others not? Why is a street covered with unaged gas masks? The kids are pristine as are their clothes but their homes are all run down. Excetera excetera.

Things are so uneven that I spent way too much looking at the mistakes rather than the story.

Its sad that the script doesn't work better because the all performances lead by Jacob Lofland, Sophie Kennedy Clark and Patrick Schwarzenegger are actually pretty good.

Is GO NORTH worth seeing? If you like this sort of story yes it is. Bonus points if you're of the same age as the characters. All others it's up to you.

GO NORTH hits theaters and VOD Friday January the 13th.

A special VR short tie in can be found here.

Son of Joseph opens Friday

I saw SON OF JOSEPH at the New York FIlm Festival. With the film opening Friday here is a repost of that review

A young man who doesn't know who his father is discovers who it is. He then plots to kill him, however things happen...

Off kilter comedy is the sort of film where everyone will see the humor but not everyone will laugh because of the very mannered intentionally structured story. That's not an indication that the film is bad, rather it means there is going to be a hell of a lot more people who like the film as opposed to loving it.

The problem with the film is entirely the fault of writer director Eugene Green who more often then not has the characters staring into the camera as they speak. There are few real conversations, everything is mini monologues, or artificial exchanges. All of the performances are modulated to remain on a certain level. It makes for some interesting moments as Mathieu Amalric seems to be straining not to act his scenes in a realistic fashion. He also structures the film as a kind of religious allegory for no real reason.

I don't dislike the film, I just didn't click with it. I suppose if I did I would have been doubled over with laughter as the gentleman to my left was.

Monday, January 9, 2017

“GHOST IN THE SHELL” RETURNS TO THEATERS FOR LIMITED ENGAGEMENT FEBRUARY 7 - 8, 2017

I received the following press release earlier today. All I can say is if you've never seen The original animated film GHOST IN THE SHELL now is your chance.

Mamoru Oshii Classic to Screen in 110 U.S. Theaters

Santa Monica, Calif., – January 9, 2017 —The “Ghost in the Shell” franchise has been entertaining audiences for more than 25 years and this February, Lionsgate and Funimation Films are partnering together to bring the 1995, groundbreaking anime film back to theaters for a two-day limited theatrical engagement. The original “Ghost in the Shell” movie from acclaimed director Mamoru Oshii, will return to the big screen on February 7 – 8, 2017 in 110 theaters across the United States. Moviegoers will be able to enjoy both the original Japanese version with subtitles as well as the English dub of the film. Each will be available on separate days of the engagement, beginning first with the subtitled version. Tickets are available beginning today and can be pre-purchased via the official movie website at funimationfilms.com/ghostintheshell.

Viewed as ahead of its time when it premiered in 1995, “Ghost in The Shell” quickly turned into a pop culture phenomenon and the inspiration for future mainstream movies. The movie became the first anime film to rank #1 on Billboard in video sales, which currently total more than 1.5 million copies across the franchise. With the release of “Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie” in 2016 and a new live action version of “Ghost in the Shell” set to release at the end of March, there has been a huge resurgence in fan interest for the franchise worldwide.

“We’re excited to be partnering with Lionsgate to bring the original ‘Ghost in the Shell’ movie back to U.S. theaters,” said Gen Fukunaga, CEO and founder of Funimation. “’Ghost in the Shell’ is truly a seminal work in anime cinema and it helped firmly establish a market for the genre with U.S. movie audiences.”

“’Ghost in the Shell’ is an iconic property and it is great that fans will be able to watch it on the big screen for the first time in 20 years,’ said Kevin Carney, VP Marketing Lionsgate. “Many fans will be seeing the movie in a theater for the first time and Funimation has been a terrific partner to help make this possible.”

Lionsgate will be releasing a new, deluxe collector’s edition of the remastered original on Blu-Ray with Digital HD. This new edition will feature steelbook packaging and Mondo artwork and will be available in retail outlets beginning March 7, 2017.

Synopsis
2029 - A female cybernetic government agent, Major Motoko Kusanagi, and the Internal Bureau of Investigations are hot on the trail of “The Puppet Master,” a mysterious and threatening computer virus capable of infiltrating human hosts. Together, with her fellow agents from Section 9, they embark on a high-tech race against time to capture the omnipresent entity.

For more information on “Ghost in the Shell” visitfunimationfilms.com/ghostintheshell

Doing Jewish: A Story From Ghana (2016) New York Jewish Film Festival 2017

While volunteering at a women's group in Ghana director Gabrielle Zilkha began to feel lonely for her Jewish roots. Not because she was ever particularly religious but because being alone in Africa she felt that she didn't even have the option. Her mother hearing of her plight tells her about a community a days travel away where there is supposed to be a group of centuries old practicing Jews. Making the trip she finds a ancient community who until relatively recently didn't know that they were part of a larger religion.

Good but kind of fluffy tale of  one woman reconnecting with her own heritage by discovering it some where else. This is an intriguing tale full of lots of good people and some rather interesting questions. While I had heard of various Jewish communities being found in Africa I had never heard of this one and I was enraptured by the history of the tale.

The problem with the film, and hence the fluffy description, is that Zilkha takes a splashy kind of jokey attitude toward the making of the film with lots of shots that were clearly staged, showy wipes, knowing narration and light sense that make it hard to take the whole thing seriously. Personally I found the whole subject fascinating but I wasn't always so keen on the presentation.  I get the feeling that she shot most of the documentary footage and interview material and then went back and shot linking material. I suspect this because some stuff was obvious shot by one person while a lot of the stuff I didn't like was clearly shot by a second camera.

While I truly love the story I only really like the film because the film doesn't quite seem to have a hard enough edge to it.

Regardless  DOING JEWISH is recommended when the film plays Wednesday the 11th at the New York Jewish Film Festival.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Nightcap 1/8/17: The New York Jewish Film Festival starts Wednesday, ROGUE ONE, MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE and Randi's links


The New York Jewish Film Festival Starts Wednesday and we are better for it. This wonderful annual celebration of films with a Jewish connection always manages to give us some absolutely delightful films and events. Among this year’s highlights are a BBC biography of Bette Midler and the 50th anniversary screening of Mel Brooks THE PRODUCERS.

What I love about the festival is that you don’t need to be Jewish to enjoy the films because many transcend the ethnic pigeon holing with a director simply being Jewish. These are films for everyone regardless of their background and having seen a number of films already and having tickets to several more I can promise you that is true. Films such as the PESHMERGA which is screening as the center piece are for anyone who cares about humanity.

I love the festival with all my heart and while MOMI’s First look Fest is the first calendar festival, New York Jewish is the first festival of the calendar year that actually means something since occasionally some of it’s delights survive to get awards at the end of the year.

The fest runs until the 24th and is highly recommended.

A couple of quick notes:

WHO'S GONNA LOVE ME NOW is a very good film with a very great sound track about man named Saar. Almost 20 years earlier he left his home on a kibbutz in Israel because being a gay man who was HIV positive caused rifts in his family. He fled to London where he found a home and acceptance with the London Gay Men's Chorus. Now he wants to go home and he tries to mend fences. While the story isn't anything special, as such the people are. This is a wonderful collection of people you will be glad you've met. Most importantly there is a killer soundtrack - which includes The Pet Shop Boys Go West making this the second film in a year that used the song to great effect (The other is Mountains May Depart). I like the film a great deal and recommend it when it plays the festival January 14 and 22nd.

NUMBERS MAN is a short playing with HUMMUS THE MOVIE. The film is about David who has a seeming endless memory. Working as a cashier at a grocery store David rattles off odd facts and connection to every number he sees. It’s a charming little portrait of a really interesting guy. Recommended

I need to say that I have seen an unfinished version of  ANGEL WAGENSTEIN:ART IS A WEAPON(2017). The film is portrait of novelist, filmmaker, partisan and revolutionary.  As much as I would love to review the film, its an excellent one and was a great way to start the 2017 film year, I can't in good conscious do so. The version I saw was 15 or 20 minutes shorter than the final cut so I don't feel comfortable really reviewing it. The version I saw was so good I don't want to disrespect the film or give false impressions based on the unfinished one I've seen. All I can say is go see the film. (It plays January 17 and 19)

For tickets and more information go here
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I finally saw ROGUE ONE A STAR WARS STORY

I liked it. In it's way it's my favorite film of the series and in a way not.

I like the fact that a film where the whole cast dies can set box office records. (If you didn't know then you never saw Star Wars)

I'm not going to review the film, nothing I can say will make a difference.

While I like the film I have issues- the plot is clunky, the film moves so fast the only characters are Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen because they carry the weight in from another film. There are severe signs that the script was much more complicated but got chopped down.The result is that outside of the aforementioned pair, none of the deaths are emotionally moving.  This would have been better had it not tied directly into Star Wars and thus be a foregone conclusion.

As I said I like the film- I love Donnie & Jiang- and I love what the film show signs of what it might have been had it not been chopped down.
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The awesome MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE is running at the Japan Society Friday. I highly recommend seeing it on the big screen.

For tickets and more information go here.
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And now Randi's links

Beck Underwood's Short films
If you didn't see the spaceship in Brooklyn
BBC POP QUIZ
MST3K PRIMORDIAL SOUP
Over 500 Old time Radio Christmas/holiday shows
Joel Sartore Photo Ark
London Pubs
WW1 and Lord of the Rings
Beating Heart Corpses
The Titanic sank because of a fire?

Kubo, Lakia and the trouble with their dark fantasy (spoilers)

If you want dark animation one need look no further than the out put of Laika a firm that specializes in stop motion animation. The company was formed when Phil Knight of Nike invested in the Vil Vinton Studios and then removed Vinton and started up feature production. Its a messy tale that is best told else where.

Laika's first film was CORALINE based upon the novel by Neil Gaiman  and directed by Henry Selig who did NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Selick did the MOON GIRL short before heading off. The company then released PARANORMAN, BOX TROLLS and most recently KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS. While the films have made money, none have been major hits with the ultimate fate of KUBO still up in the air.

While I like  and can appreciate what Laika is doing I'm kind of left to ponder where they are headed.

Blessed with a a unique look and animating in a style that almost no one uses any more Laika is a one of a kind production house, If you add to it the fact that all of the features have a real darkness to them you really wonder how the company can continuously  do what it does, when I know several kids are frightened by the films and outside or CORALINE I don't know of any one who rewatches any of their other films.

This isn't to knock the studio, but there is a real danger producing films that cost tens of millions of dollars and are nominally geared toward children who are so over protected that the images scare the bejeezus out of them.

And such it is with their most recent film KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS. Being sold as an adventure film, it is really a dark fantasy where a young boy has to flee his grandfather who wants to blind him. He has to hide out with his mother who has broken mentally  and fears that her blind sisters will come and disfigure her son further. Its a film filled with death and pain.

While I like the film a great deal, I still have trouble with its cavalier attitude toward pain and suffering. The film seems to think nothing of the inherent violence in the tale Kubo loses his mother  twice and his father once immediately after discovering who he is. Its a traumatic thing and the film just sort of takes it in stride and goes on.

The problem with the film, like the problem with the other films Laika has produced other than CORALINE is that the company really doesn't know how to handle the darkness. There is a ghoulishness to PARANORMAN that  has kept me from revisiting it and there is a real nasty edge to BOX TROLLS that I also find trouble some. While I don't mind the nasty edge, and welcome it as a nod to the real Brother Grimm, I don't think the company has the finesse to really make it work.

While watching KUBO I was constantly struck by the notion that the filmmakers were trying to ape a Neil Gaiman fairy tale. Say what you will Kubo moves like someone following a Gaiman template. If we do these things and have those things happen then we'll have a Neil story.  The problem is that while the story has the structure that mimics a Gaiman story it is missing the heart>?Where is the danger? There never is any, not really.

In CORALINE there is a sense that anything can happen. We know that Coraline will be okay, but at the same time we can't be certain in what form that will be. In the film there is sense of danger and we feel for any price that she will have to pay to get it.

On the other hand in KUBO there is no real danger to KUBO. All the pain and suffering is directed at Monkey and Beetle, And while Kubo loses his parents, it not a real loss because he just seems to shake it off and go on- hell we have the final fade out of the KUBO and the ghost parents. Having this darkness without cost doesn't work. Without the cost to pain ratio you either have it not mean anything or just be really creepy in the wrong sort of way.

How are we supposed to really feel for Kubo's journey when he really doesn't overcome anything- it's all his parents work - think about it, its true-they do most of the work. The trouble for me with this not really being a quest for Kubo is that without him suffering, without him overcoming obstacles on his own the final confrontation with his grandfather is a nonstarter. How can we root for him when he has done very little?

And that is another problem with the film, without a strong antagonist Kubo has nothing to fight against. All he is doing is looking for armor while Monkey fights the sisters or runs interference. Kubo does very little and grows not at all. If the film had actually been a journey for Kubo then Laika could have gotten away with keeping the grandfather off until the final moments as it does, but as it is we have a fight with a guy we know nothing about

I understand some people have wet themselves with joy over KUBO but at the same time I think its a film that you have to bring an inordinate amount of preconceived notions with you for it to work.

In all honesty I think that if someone like Neil Gaiman, or JM DeMatties or Jeph Loeb had written it would have had the right resonances and not felt like it was by the numbers.

And that is the problem with Laika. They don't know how to structure the dark tales they are telling. Yes, they make you feel the unease and the pain but at the same time they don't know how to connect it up to the human psyche and soul and until they do that their films will turn a profit but they will never be a mega hit or be considered a classic.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The work of William Joyce and Meet the Robinsons (2007)

William Joyce is an anomaly. An Oscar winning filmmaker, genius, and all around amazing fellow, Joyce has been writing books and making films and creating art for decades and yet most people really don't know who he is.

If you mention his name to most people they will stare at you blankly. They might ask if he was related to James Joyce, or if you're historically inclined you may say something about Lord Haw Haw. If you have kids of a certain age then they might be aware of his children's books.

The funny thing is most people don't realize that many of his books have been made into films and that most amazingly his visual and story telling style has actually survived the transfer to the big screen more or less intact- a fact that has  caused numerous of my friends to say "Oh shit" in disbelief when they realized all the films he had a hand in. The Oh Shit is usually followed by "why didn't I see that."

The reason that no one really notices it unless they are fans of Joyce's work is that he has worked pretty much for every studio telling his stories in his style. Its kind of like if Hayao Miyazaki or Walt Disney never had their own studio and released their films under other banners. Joyce's body of work rivals that of Ghibli and Disney in quantity and quality, though most people don't realize it. (And don't even question me on this - he is great enough to be compared to both Miyazaki and Disney)

Of course part of the problem is that Joyce has either simply been a writer or a production designer on films, but if you know Joyce's work, you know that just using his words and visuals effectively makes him the de facto director/creator regardless of who is listed as the director.

The interesting thing is that the one film that most people should know, the one film from the studio one would think is most suited for Joyce is the one film that most people don't know,namely the Disney released MEET THE ROBINSONS

Based on a book by William Joyce (A Day with Wilbur Robinson) MEET THE ROBINSONS is a wonderful transposition of Joyce’s work on the big screen. It’s a film that doesn’t really look like any other Disney film, rather it looks like Joyce’s other big screen films like ROBOTS, EPIC, RISE OF THE GUARDIANS and the Oscar winning short THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR LESSMORE and the TV shows Rollie Pollie Ollie and George Shrinks. While the film is a great deal of fun it unfortunately suffers from a major problem, it’s a film almost no one ever talks about or even seems to like.

Why the hell is that?

The film is the story of  Lewis a brilliant scientist who is whisked away to the future by Wilbur Robinson to track down an evil genius in a bowler hat.

It’s a charming and moving film  that resonates with all sorts of themes and ideas beyond the grand adventure at it’s center, among them the bittersweetness of the road not taken. Its a film that is playing on a deeper level than your typical Disney gee whiz one. Yes, the film is fun but at the same time the film is operating in the same territory as LILO AND STITCH , or some of the Pixar (UP) or Ghibli films where there is a serious subtext to the fun. Its a subtext that some people don't like.

I also suspect that some people don't like the look of the film. Not looking (or behaving) like a typical Disney film I don't think people think of it as a Disney film. This is the sin of being a studio such as Disney or Pixar or Ghibli - all the films they release begin to look the same after a while. I suspect it's mostly for branding and making it easy for people to know your films.  ROBINSONS looks like a William Joyce film, not a Walt Disney one. (Though interestingly Joyce started work at Pixar and contributed to both TOY STORY and A BUGS LIFE)

The thing is that if I can sit someone down and make them watch the film they usually fall in love with it. This is a film that upsets expectations and when you allow it to wash over you ends up being one of your favorites. Its wild and crazy and contains all sorts of throw aways and references that most people don't get- usually because they aren't paying attention- Disney films (or for most people animated films in general) simply aren't that clever.

To be certain that Joyce didn't actually write the screenplay- eight other people are credited with it- but at the same time if you know Joyce and his work it's clear that he was an influence on the film more than anyone would care to admit (much like Hellboy creator Mike Mignola was the guiding star for ATLANTIS THE LOST EMPIRE. Seriously  look at the character design and compare it to Mignola's stories)

MEET THE ROBINSONS is a great film. Its one of the great Disney films since the current golden age began in 1989 with the release of the LITTLE MERMAID. Certainly it, along with TREASURE PLANET,  is one of the great "lost" Disney films.

If you've never see it do so. If you have seen it see it again.

Manifesto- The installation at the Park Avenue Armory

I have no idea how to explain MANIFESTO. It is an art film installation that is finishing up a run at the Park Avenue Armory (it plays to midnight tonight and is open tomorrow which is it's last day)  and is being cut together in a linear fashion to play in theaters after it world premieres at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

If I were to attempt a literal explanation I might say:

Cate Blanchett stars in 13 films 12 running just over ten minutes and one just under five. Each film is made up of various manifestos and are performed as if they are the dialog for a film. All the films run on loops and at a certain moment in each the films all come together to create a beautiful harmonic resonance that echoes through the space.

The trouble is that doesn't do the installation justice. It doesn't explain how the sound bouncing around the space effects what you are seeing in anyone place. It doesn't explain the result of seeing pieces out of the corner of your eyes or how looking back at one piece after you've seen the next changes things. You get no sense of being in the space of interacting with the other people - of discussing it with friends or how what you over hear of other people's conversations affect your thoughts. Seeing each piece straight through once and in pieces 13 more times plays with your mind and makes you think about the notion of art, of presentation and how we think about everything.

To be honest I don’t know if MANIFESTO means anything. Certainly the mashing together of all of the manifestos (some 50 in all many of them conflicting with others) alters what each one is saying. If you want all of the pieces together and tried to deduce what it means it would be gibberish because of the conflicting ideas.

You also have to take into account Blanchett’s stellar performances. Playing 13 roles and doing the voice over in the introduction her reading of the texts in various guises turn things on their head. Humor, which many people refused to laugh at, was injected into the proceedings just by her performances. From her wide eyed crazed homeless man in the first, to her tear filled eulogy about wanting to shit colors in a funeral piece on Dada, to the spot on dismantling of TV news, or to her wicked commentary to a class of ten year olds on Dogma 95 there are times when you can’t help but laugh out loud. (I won’t even mention the big dance number that looks like Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS sequel might be if it were a musical (thank you Hubert)

The funny thing is that the films are really perfect little films. Yes they work together to form something greater but all of them are about something, all reflect some part of life-the words just happen to be largely position statements. It’s a stunning achievement because in a weird way the shorts could stand alone. I mean watch how the camera work in the family dinner, the puppet artist, the news report or the garbage woman piece play as real films. Just the motion of the characters in the frames and the odd real world bit of dialog give us volumes of information.

But they aren’t just stand alones- and they tie together as the films all sync up every ten minutes to create a magical sing song moment. Its starts in the newscast and travels around the room until all are joined up. The voices then fall away. At first is seems like a mistake but it’s not. Once you get to the second piece you realize that it is intentional. Don’t ask me what it means but the effect was stunning. Hubert Vigilla and I began to try and figure it out as we traveled around. We never worked it out, other than it being a reminder that all the pieces are related but at the same time we both knew that not having in play out in the linear version of MANIFESTO will make it considerably less.

As I said I don’t know what it means or what I’m supposed to get out of it, but frankly the two plus hours traveling around the Park Avenue Armory seeing it all was one of the coolest ways to see a film. It was a glorious way to begin a film year.

I think the best thing that I can say about the installation and films is that it is a perfect explanation of Peter Greenaway’s thought that cinema as we know it is dead. Here is a film that cannot exist as a conventional film but which when screened as intended is a powerful kick ass experience that moves both the head and the heart the way that cinema or film is supposed to.

Should the installation version of MANIFESTO play near you- run, don’t walk to see it…just bring comfortable shoes because it can be a lot of standing

For information on the final two days at the Park Avenue Armory go here.